Earl McWherter was simply looking for a better opportunity for himself when he started his own gasoline and diesel fuel delivery company in the early 1960s. Sixty years later, McWherter Petroleum Services is standing the test of time as a true staple in the industry in and around Delaware.
Located at the bulk plant at 90 Ross St., McWherter Petroleum Services has made fuel deliveries to customers and businesses, including local farmers, for the past five decades. And while McWherter has since semi-retired, the business will continue to remain a family affair thanks to his son, Keith, who now owns the company. McWherter’s daughter is also in the business, serving as the company’s office manager.
“It’s been a real pleasure and a success for the family,” McWherter told the Gazette.
McWherter’s career in the fuel oil business began in 1954 when he took a job as a gas station attendant for Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) in his hometown of Marion following graduation. He spent a total of seven years as an attendant at several different stations, learning the products and how the business operated.
In 1958, McWherter was transferred as a service station manager to the former station on the corner of Sandusky Street and Harrison Street in Delaware, his new home in which he said he “fell in love with right away.” McWherter stayed in that position for a total of three years before seeking a change.
It was at that time McWherter decided he didn’t want to be a “pump jockey” any longer, and he notified his sales representative that he was looking for a new job. Unbeknownst to him at the time, that decision would end up being the start of a lifelong career in the petroleum industry.
“The assistant division manager, whom I knew, called me and said, ‘I just can’t believe you’re leaving. What’s the problem?’ I told him I just didn’t want to be a pump jockey the rest of my life. There’s something better out there for me. He asked me to make him a promise that I wouldn’t accept any new job until I talked to him, and I agreed to that. It was six or seven months later when he called me and said they have an opening at the bulk plant in Delaware.”
The opening was a result of one man’s retirement at the plant, opening the door for McWherter to get his fresh start. Familiarity with the work was an added bonus for McWherter, who worked at the plant on a part-time basis while working in Marion.
McWherter bought out the man who was set to retire, leaving Sohio and beginning his career as an independent fuel delivery service under his own company in 1961. “I’ve been there ever since,” McWherter said.
The sustainability of McWherter’s business has spoken for itself with every passing year, but the fact McWherter Petroleum Services has outlasted every other distributor that once operated at the plant only serves to underscore that longevity. There were a total of five distributors at the plant when McWherter got his start, he said, all of which have retired or sold their business.
Keith McWherter acquired the business in 2008 as his father began to care for his wife, who had developed Alzheimer’s. Earl McWherter said it became “too much” to run the business while trying to devote his attention to his wife, and with the peace of mind in knowing his son was more than capable of continuing the business, the timing was right to hand it over.
Earl McWherter said his only concerns with turning the business over to his son had more to do with the changes happening in the industry.
“I had confidence in him that if nothing major happened, he could manage it. … It’s the best thing I ever did because he’s doing much better. Youthfulness is valuable,” Earl McWherter said of his son.
But while Earl McWherter, now 84 years old, has long since turned over the business to his son, he has not entirely removed himself from the company. McWherter still answers the phone for the company, does some janitorial work, makes smaller deliveries, and whatever else may be needed.
Asked why he has chosen to remain involved in the business rather than fully retire, McWherter pointed to the sense of purpose his role in the company gives each of his days.
“I think one of the major things is when my wife passed away, I had never wanted to live alone. Now, I live alone, but I’m still involved (with the company). I gotta do something. There’s gotta be a reason to get up in the morning, and I’m not interested in retiring. I think it’s important that you know there’s a little something you can do to be a value to the community. Retirement is not in my vocabulary.”
Being around the business also affords him the ability to interact with his children on a daily basis, a treat not too many parents get to enjoy.
“It’s one of the greatest things that can happen, if your children are willing to come into the business and help you make it more successful. That’s great and that’s what has occurred,” he said.
He added of working with his son, as well as his daughter, “I think some of our conversation is a guiding light for him. It’s so much fun to sit down and talk about business and what we can do to improve conditions. We talk about the business all the time. It’s a great relationship that I never dreamt of having with my children.”
Ultimately, McWherter said he still enjoys meeting and interacting with people too much to let it go. In fact, he said there are some customers the company services who are the children of customers he served years ago. He said there is “a lot of reward” to remaining active in the business.
He went on to say, “It’s been a great life. I met a lot of great people, a lot of good friends, and I love what I do.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.